Background Briefing

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The crisis in Darfur, Sudan, which has been trickling into Chad for the better part of three years, is now bleeding freely across the border. A counterinsurgency carried out by the Sudanese government and its militias against rebel groups in Darfur, characterized by war crimes and “ethnic cleansing,” has forcibly displaced almost two million civilians in Darfur and another 220,000 people who have fled across the border into Chad. The same ethnic “Janjaweed” militias that have committed systematic abuses in Darfur have staged cross-border raids into Chad, attacking Darfurian refugees and Chadian villagers alike, seizing their livestock and killing those who resist.

The government of Sudan is actively exporting the Darfur crisis to its neighbor by providing material support to Janjaweed militias and by failing to disarm or control them, by backing Chadian rebel groups that it allows to operate from bases in Darfur, and by deploying its own armed forces across the border into Chad.

For decades, both the Sudanese and Chadian governments have intermittently supported  rebels active against the other along their common border (successive regime changes in Chad have been achieved this way). But attacks on Chadian civilians accelerated dramatically in the wake of a December 2005 assault on Adré, in eastern Chad, by Chadian rebels with bases in Darfur and supported by the government of Sudan. Although the Chadian rebels were not targeting Chadian civilians, the December attack, combined with a wave of Chadian military defections to Chadian rebel groups based in Darfur, had the consequence of prompting the Chadian army to redeploy its forces, leaving long stretches of the border with Sudan undefended. Janjaweed militias exploited this gap, staging raids into eastern Chad with increasing frequency and complete impunity.

The Janjaweed raiding parties have targeted villages in Chad and willfully killed Chadian civilians, in particular those from the Masalit and Dajo ethnic groups (non-Arab cross-border tribes that have also been the targets of Janjaweed attacks in Darfur). Due to the attacks in Chad, civilians have been forced from their homes, and their few possessions, mostly livestock, have been looted.  People living along the Chad-Sudan border, already among the world’s poorest, have little access to national or international humanitarian assistance.

On some occasions, the Janjaweed attacks appear to be coordinated with those of the Chadian rebels. On other occasions, Janjaweed militias have carried out attacks inside Chad accompanied by Sudanese army troops with helicopter gunship support. 

This situation could have serious implications for the government of President Idriss Déby in Chad.  The Sudanese government’s actions—support of Chadian rebels and failure to restrain Janjaweed militias—exacerbate political instability within Chad, where the president’s controversial run for a third term in May 2006 elections is taking place amid allegations of corruption in Chad’s new but growing oil wealth.  Regardless of whether President Deby stays in power or not, however, the ethnically-targeted attacks on the eastern border have killed dozens and forced thousands more Chadians into internal displacement in dire conditions since December. Even more Chadian civilians are at risk, as well as hundreds of thousands of Darfurian refugees living on the Chadian side of the border as the situation rapidly deteriorates.

For Darfur, what this situation could mean is that its conflict will become more difficult to resolve as more actors are drawn in from its unstable neighbor, with their own agendas. The Janjaweed, moving with Sudanese government help into Chad, will expand their power and resource base, and their alliance with Chadian rebels will strengthen both. Even more fighting in Darfur may result if a Chadian civil war is brought, once again, inside Darfur.

The governments of Chad and Sudan, the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), and the international community must do more to bring security to the border region, prevent the expansion of ethnic cleansing into Chad, and protect Chadian civilians from attacks at the hands of the Sudanese government, Chadian rebels and Janjaweed militias. Individuals involved in the commission of war crimes and other criminal acts must be prosecuted—whether they are government officials, rebel military leaders, civilian leaders or Janjaweed. 

This report is based on a Human Rights Watch research mission to eastern Chad in January-February 2006.  In some cases the precise locations of incidents and other identifying details have been withheld to protect the safety of witnesses.

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